How to Deal With Difficult Parents

Finding ways to deal with difficult parents will help you settle into peace and happiness – for perhaps the first time in your life. These tips are for adult children who want to move past their unhappy childhoods.

One of my favorite quotes about dealing with difficult parent is, “If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother.”

Another is: “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy,” said Robert A. Heinlein. Easy childhoods can set you up to falter in adulthood because you haven’t learned the necessary life skills. But, having difficult parents can certainly set you back, too.

Are your difficult parents toxic and hurtful? Are they causing you extreme amounts of pain? Read Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr Susan Forward.

And here are three ways to move past an unhappy childhood, based on my experience with my parents.

Tips for Dealing With Difficult Parents

Note that these tips are more psychological than practical. If you’re looking for practical tips for caring with parents with age-related memory loss or health issues, read 10 Tips for Caring for Parents With Dementia.

Some moms are more apt to boil rabbits and stalk married men (like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) than balance a successful white-collar job with a nurturing home life (like Claire Huxtable). Adult children of difficult parents need to know how to build good relationships with them anyway – even if we have a mother-in-law who doesn’t accept us – or we suffer the consequences.

I know firsthand what it’s like to deal with difficult parents; I’ve learned to love my mother, who has struggled with schizophrenia for most of my life (which made for a very unhappy childhood for me). If you’re the adult child of an alcoholic, mentally ill, or toxic parent – these suggestions may help you connect with them and and help you move past your own unhappy childhood.

Remember: even the most unorthodox childhood can be a springboard to success – depending on your attitude and perspective!

Become Aware of Your Feelings. “When we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, the feeling becomes the master,” writes Sue Patton Thoele in The Courage to be Yourself. “A repressed or suppressed emotion builds up power until it’s impossible to contain and, as a result, erupts destructively.”

Take resentment, for instance. Maybe you feel rejected because your mother smothers you or keeps “lending” thousands of dollars to your brother. Maybe your mom nags you to lose weight, get married, clean your house, or get your hair out of your eyes (oh, to have a normal mother!). Avoiding your feelings of anger or resentment does pay off – otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Avoiding your feelings is easier, less painful, and requires less energy — in the short run.

In the long run, however, swallowing your feelings about your unhappy childhood or you’re struggles to deal with difficult parents can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and unhealthy relationships. Violent eruptions become more likely, such as emotional meltdowns over computer glitches and screaming fits over lost keys. If you’re dealing with difficult parents as an adult child, you need to find healthy ways to express your feelings.

Accept Your Feelings. Knowing and accepting your feelings brings freedom and a stronger connection with difficult parents. As an adult child, simply saying out loud, “It aggravates me when mom tells me how to discipline my kids!” can be liberating.

Resisting your feelings makes them stronger; accepting your feelings makes them manageable. Talk about difficult parents: when I was in high school my mother regularly visited me at lunch – she had long scraggly hair and wore dirty, baggy street-person clothes. I fought my humiliation and embarrassment for years and those feelings grew, just like compound interest.

When I couldn’t swallow my pain anymore (it was leaking out in self-destructive ways), I finally let myself simply feel my despair. And it was bad, but then the feelings became less strong. Now, it’s easier to connect with my difficult mom because…

It is what it is.

Practice Forgiveness. Oprah recently said that forgiveness is releasing the hope that things could have been different. True forgiveness is realizing the gift in a bad childhood – and learning from it. Every experience you’ve had makes you who you are and makes you more yourself. Your unique personality and spirit wouldn’t be yours if you had different parents or siblings – even if you got a bad deal. Dealing with difficult parents is easier when you accept and let go of the past. Sometimes that means letting go of someone you love.

Forgiveness is easier when you accept that your parents did the best they could. You need to accept them for who they are, and remember that you can’t change them. The only person you can change is yourself.

Being a caregiver for your parents puts a whole different spin on things! Read Caring for Elderly Parents? 10 Ways to Stay Energized.

If you have thoughts on dealing with difficult parents, please comment below.

difficult parents

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